International Insider: Cinemas In Crisis; Mipcom Forges On; Channel 4 For Sale

Bonjour, and congratulations on making it to Friday. As usual, International Insider is here to bookend your week with some must-reads and analysis from recent days. Jake Kanter with you in the saddle this week.

Cinemas In Crisis

Shutting up shop: Major global exhibitor Cineworld sent shockwaves through the biz this week when it made the surprise move to temporarily re-close all 127 of its sites in the UK and Ireland as well as its 536 Regal theatres in the U.S. The move came after Bond pic No Time To Die (pictured) delayed its release by six months, with the exhibitor citing a lack of high-profile titles on the slate. Some 45,000 staff are affected, and no timeframe has been given for reopening.

The context: After months of closures, things had started to look up for the theatrical exhibition business after Warner Bros pulled the trigger and released Tenet, grossing $300M+ globally. The international-led strategy made sense but ongoing difficulties in the U.S., which led to a thin $45M domestic gross, set alarm bells ringing. With New York yet to allow cinemas to re-open, distributors are shying away from releasing tentpole titles into such an uncertain marketplace, with other major movies such as Dune, Jurassic World: Dominion and The Batman all being delayed significantly.

Cineworld’s view: In an exclusive interview with Deadline, Cineworld CEO Mooky Greidinger cited New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s “inflexibility” in allowing cinemas to reopen as the reason for his drastic action, rather than pointing the finger at studios. You can read Nancy Tartaglione’s full interview here.

Fallout: Most other cinema owners are standing firm, for now at least. Vue International CEO Tim Richards told us this week that he wants to avoid the “nuclear option” of closing sites. However, the UK’s other major exhibitor, Odeon, has reduced hours at around 25% of its venues and will only open them at the weekend for the time being. Exhibition stocks took a significant hit in response to the news.

Reaction: High-profile figures have come out to support the cinema biz, including Patty Jenkins, whose Wonder Woman 1984 has been delayed three times during the pandemic. “We could lose movie theater-going forever,” she warned in an interview this week. The issues of the moving film slate shows no signs of abating, however, with Disney yesterday announcing that the upcoming Pixar movie Soul will be the next major title to skip theatrical entirely and debut directly online.

Mipcom Forges On

It’s Mipcom, but not as we know it: The great and the good of global TV were meant to be descending on Cannes next week for Mipcom, but coronavirus had other ideas. Gone is the rosé, deal-making on lavish yachts, hot slices at La Pizza Cresci, and insanely over-priced bar snacks at The Majestic. In their place, a virtual market.

What that means in theory: Laurine Garaude (pictured), director of TV at Mipcom organizer Reed Midem, tells me that the speaker lineup remains much the same, with keynotes from the likes of Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos. Major distributors will host upfronts and big shows will be spotlighted, like BBC Studios-repped Lily James series The Pursuit of Love. Exhibitors will exhibit, only virtually, while buyers and sellers can organize meetings through the Mipcom Online+ directory.

What it means in practice: Mipcom has really been underway for weeks. Studios, like Sony and ITV Studios, have hosted their own online showcases, and the rise of video calls means that they are talking to buyers more than ever. The virtual market will serve as a focal point to shout about previously finalized deals and to do some hand-waving at potential new clients, but it is unlikely to be a hub for big deals or a place where new shows generate organic buzz.

The Mipcom view: Garaude says it’s been a “difficult” year for her team, but she is hopeful that Mipcom Online+ can “capture the spirit” of the market — even though she admits it won’t have the same je ne sais quoi for an intensely social industry.  Garaude argues that 2020 is a blip, rather than an unraveling of the Mipcom model. “We’ll be working back together in Cannes as soon as that’s possible,” she adds. Full interview here.

And look out for this: I have spoken to 10 distribution chiefs in Europe and America for their take on virtual Mipcom. We’ll drop the full feature when the market formally opens on Monday.

Channel 4 For Sale

The specter of privatization returns: British media minister John Whittingdale dropped a bomb on Tuesday when, apropos of nothing, he revealed that the government is giving serious thought to selling off Channel 4. Spelling out his reasoning at the Conservative Party conference, Whittingdale told comrades that Channel 4’s commercial model (it is 95% ad-funded) may not be sustainable in the age of U.S. streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon.

Potential motives: Selling Channel 4 could raise funds for the public purse at a time when coronavirus debt is spiraling. Furthermore, Conservative hardliners have no love for Channel 4 News, which they perceive to be a liberal hotbed — even though it works within strict impartiality rules. Finally, as one source put it to me, selling Channel 4 represents “unfinished business” for Whittingdale, who tried and failed to flog the broadcaster four years ago.

Channel 4’s response: The Great British Bake Off broadcaster was first to admit that it was brutalized by the pandemic back in spring, but CEO Alex Mahon has since pointed to advertising gains and audience increases. This, she argues, underlines Channel 4’s durability. She brushed off sales talk, telling an Ofcom event: “That’s always a question government should look at, but it’s also a question we can discuss completely reasonably… but it’s not one that unduly worries me.”

Why it matters: Channel 4 plays a unique role in the British broadcasting ecology by funneling its revenue into independent productions and championing innovative shows like Gogglebox. The industry’s fear has always been that, in commercial hands, Channel 4 would retreat from these duties, damaging both the UK’s broadcasting ecology and a thriving production sector.

The Essentials

🌶️ Hot one of the week: Spectrum Originals and ITV are co-producing Hitchcockian psychological thriller Angela Black, in which Golden Globe-winner Joanne Froggatt plays a victim of domestic abuse. More here.

🍿 International box office: Two new Chinese movies moved to the top two slots on the worldwide opening chart: My People My Homeland and Jiang Ziya: Legend Of Deification. Nancy Tartaglione has the details.

🚚 On the move: Anil Gupta, the BAFTA-winning executive producer of the UK version of The Office, is joining Sky Studios in the newly-created role of creative director of comedy. Story here.

📅 Diary date: Mipcom, as we’ve heard, really gets going next week. Look out for Ted Sarandos’ keynote at 5.30PM local time in France on Monday 12.

🎦 Trailer dash: Universal gave us a look at The 355, the female-fronted globetrotting spy thriller starring Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Penélope Cruz, Diane Kruger and Fan Bingbing. It remains slated for Jan 15 domestically. Watch here.

📺 One to watch: Samuel L. Jackson’s sheds new light on 400 years of human trafficking in BBC Two’s Enslaved: The Lost History Of The Transatlantic Slave Trade (pictured above). Sunday, 9PM.

And finally…

NBC (social) distances itself from Brit comedy: After Deadline revealed over the weekend that UK puppet comedy Spitting Image would be premiering in the U.S. on Facebook instead of getting a network bow, it was not clear exactly who had got cold feet. Jon Thoday, founder of the show’s producer Avalon, provided an answer just days later. Ever the straight-talker, he issued a salty explanation about NBC’s decision to back out of Spitting Image just weeks before its debut. “It’s basically quite a difficult show to do in the environment that exists, particularly if you’re attacking tall poppies. Inevitably if you attack tall poppies, people get worried,” Thoday told the Times. Mind you, we shouldn’t be surprised at Thoday’s willingness to bite the hand that feeds. Avalon-produced Last Week Tonight With John Oliver makes a fixture of roasting HBO’s parent AT&T. Full story.

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